River Lea Oil Spill: Authorities must adopt a new approach to prevent future disasters

– AN OPEN LETTER TO –
Government and Opposition:

Environment Agency:
• Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive
• Dr Toby Willison, Executive Director of Operations
• Sarah Chare, Director Operations South East
• Simon Hawkins, Deputy Director Hertfordshire & North London Canal & River Trust
• Richard Parry, Chief Executive
• Peter Birch, Group Environment Manager
• Jon Guest, Waterway Manager in London
• Nick Smith, National Waste and Contamination Surveyor, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA):
• Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• Thérèse Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, Food
& Rural Affairs (EFRA)

Committee:
• Neil Parish MP, Chair Environmental Audit Committee (EAC):
• Mary Creagh MP, Chair Labour Party:
• Sue Hayman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
• David Lammy MP, Tottenham
• Dianne Abbott MP, Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Shadow Home Secretary
• Meg Hillier MP, Hackney South & Shoreditch

The River Lea flows south from the Chiltern Hills through East London to the River Thames, and is a major source of London’s drinking water. The Lea Valley is home to over 200 bird species, over 35 species of mammal and over 500 species of plant; all of which are under persistent threat from contaminated waste entering the river at Pymmes Brook.

On Sunday 11th February 2018, the River Lea saw its worst – but by no means only – incident of waste crime in recent history when used engine oil entered the river at Pymmes Brook. The slow emergency response by both the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust enabled the contamination to spread up- and downstream over five miles of waterway.

By the Environment Agency’s own calculations, over 78,000 litres of oil-polluted water has been removed from the contaminated area since the incident. The Swan Sanctuary rescued more than 30 swans and other waterbirds. Many other animals died. There were already 40 swans in care at The Swan Sanctuary following another recent pollution event from Pymmes Brook on 28th December 2017 – otherwise admissions in February 2018
would likely have exceeded 70.

Local residents, businesses, rowers, walkers, tourists and live-aboard boaters have been subject to harmful fumes, along with the sight of dead and contaminated wildlife; not to mention the toxic waste itself. Some local river-based businesses and organisations have had no option but to cease operations during this time.

A boater and Canal & River Trust joint volunteer clean-up effort was undermined when hazardous waste held in unsealed tonne bags, including
dead animals, was left on public towpaths uncollected by the Environment Agency for over three weeks.

Volunteers have noted the Environment Agency’s proactive work at the source of the spill, as well as the initial dedication of a handful of Canal & River Trust staff on the ground. It is, however, over one month since the incident and volunteers are still organising regular clean-up operations with no support from the Environment Agency or the Canal & River Trust.

After one month, the oil spill has still not been contained or cleaned. Throughout this environmental disaster communication between agencies and the affected communities has been substandard, and has fallen short of the most basic expectations:

• No clarity between Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust’s responsibilities
• No evidence of an emergency response contingency plan or strategy
• Insufficient briefing of Canal & River Trust staff and volunteers
• No proactive or clear communication with boat licence holders, rowing clubs or marinas
• No education of towpath users or local businesses
• Lack of clean-up resources available to boaters and volunteers
• Failure to close waterways quickly and the premature reopening of Hertford Union Canal leading to spread of the contamination.

The Canal & River Trust has acknowledged they “deal with on average six pollution events each year relating to the discharges from Pymmes Brook”. Why then were authorities so unprepared to cope with this major incident?

The Canal & River Trust’s purpose is “to act as guardian for the canals and rivers of England and Wales – ensuring that history, nature and communities are central to everything we do.” The Environment Agency “protect and improve the quality of water, making sure there is enough for people, businesses, agriculture and the environment.”

We, the Undersigned, call upon the Addressees to provide:

• Explanations – Why was an environmental disaster neither acted upon immediately, nor respective actions clearly communicated?• Transparency – We call on the Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust to share publicly their waste crime response and communication strategy, including roles and responsibilities and allotted emergency budget.

• Improvements – We demand an inter-agency investigation and root cause analysis of the February 2018 River Lea Oil Disaster and clean-up response. Lessons learnt and future measures to prevent and cope with disasters of such nature should be shared publicly.

• Accountability – We call on DEFRA, EAC and the EFRA select committee to hold the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to account for their handling of this disaster and to consider whether the agencies are adequately funded to meet their public objectives.

• Scrutiny – A process established whereby charities and community groups can review the approach to water quality and pollution management
within the Lea Valley.

Online petition and photos: bit.ly/leadisaster

Signed,

Lea Boaters Collective

Thames21

The Green Party

Save Lea Marshes

London Waterkeeper

The Swan Sanctuary

NBTA London

Moo Canoes

Alfred Le Roy

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Countryside Live: It’s Not That Wild!

By Celia.

In 2012, following more than a year of local opposition, the “temporary” Olympic Basketball Training Facility, stood, fenced and controlled by security guards, like an open prison.  It was rumoured to have cost in the region of £5m but was barely used.   Save Leyton Marsh  which became  Save Lea Marshes, has continued the campaign that opposed the building being erected, turning its attention to restoring Leyton Marsh, as near as possible to its previous condition.  We wanted the site re-seeded.  Instead, imported soil from Rainham Marshes and turf – which was supposed to have been based on a variety of seeds present on the marshes, but was simply a football pitch-like monoculture – was laid on top of a plastic membrane.

Leyton Marsh post Olympic development

After the so called “remedial” works had been completed, locals walked the area – if our eyes did not deceive us in being able to pick out the land that had been “Olympified”, our feet were certainly able to discern the area the monstrosity had occupied.  The turf simply felt different underfoot.  There was predominance of rye grass where a mixed range of grasses were meant to be, and some of it rotted when rain lay on top of the compacted soil leaving puddles and bare patches.  It was devastating to see how badly the land was being treated.

So, imagine our dismay when, in 2014, the fences were back, laid in an almost identical pattern as the Basketball Training Facility.  Fences, heavy vehicles and stalls were brought to Leyton Marsh by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), as part of its annual Countryside Live event.  Psychologically it stirred bad memories but to add insult to injury, the land suffered even more.

I raised the issue of the state of the land and the number of holes, not of animal origin, after Countryside live event but did not get any response from the LVRPA, so I continued to monitor the land and have taken  “before, during and after the event” photographs every year since 2014.

After the 2017, event, I wrote to the LVRPA’s Green Spaces Manager, copied to the councillors from Hackney and Waltham Forest who represent the boroughs on the LVRPA, with photographs to demonstrate my points concerning damage to the land and the litter left behind after the event.  I received a prompt reply from the Green Spaces Manager, which stressed that the LVRPA believe   “this is a highly worthwhile event that is both educational and enjoyable for the family audience and is in keeping with the open space”.  The letter went on to say: “I accept the site suffers minor damage to the short grass areas, however this is of a temporary nature as the turf quickly grows back” and “small holes created during Countryside Live are the result of wooden stakes erected for signage and to create an otter pen.  These were filled in after the event.  Smaller holes for tents, pegs, fencing and the blacksmith’s metal rods all close up quickly after being removed.  Other holes often appear on Leyton Marsh as a result of wild and domestic animals digging up the soil, which are small, shallow and have not generally presented us with any great concern and are regularly filled.  It is not possible to tell from your photos which of these holes they are however we feel these are likely to be of animal origin.”

I would dispute this analysis.  Animals do not dig square holes.  The shapes of the holes and indentations can be matched to the shape of concrete posts and pole structures.  These are evident after events and the attempts to “fill in the holes”, e.g. covering over straw, left from the animal enclosures over the holes.

My overriding concern is that an organisation that should be protecting the land and the wild life that depends on it , should not be engaging in an activity which damages the land  and  un-does much of the work carried out by its own rangers and others to keep the land in good condition.

When Occupy camped on Leyton Marsh during the 2012, protests, they were criticised for leaving, flattened grass, where their tents had been and for burning local wood.  However, there was no long- term damage visible from this encampment – the protesters were environmentalists and knew how to live on the land.  This is in sharp contrast to the level of impact, caused by heavy vehicles, stands and fencing on the land.  You can walk around after Countryside Live and spot exactly where the toilets; the sheep and cattle pens and the biggest vehicles were placed.

Litter left behind after the Countryside Live event

No-one is arguing that educating children and families about the countryside is not a good thing but what sort of “countryside” does an event like Countryside Live promote?  In the urban areas of Hackney and Waltham Forest, with development increasing all around, the land that is Leyton Marsh is all the more precious to wildlife and people.  The LVRPA describes ‘dancing sheep’ as “light-hearted” but as also presenting “a lot of information about breeds of sheep across the country and highlights the challenges faced by sheep farmers.” Is this really a relevant matter to educate children about? Surely of greater relevance is the plight of small mammals and local birds struggling to adapt to an inner city environment?

Leyton Marsh has, historically, had a dual role as an open space and a recreation ground.  Today it is appreciated by many people in different ways.  SLM has long asserted that too much of it is mowed to short amenity grassland and that more bio-diversity should be encouraged.  Its location next to Walthamstow Marshes, a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the two could easily be managed in a similar way.

We are heartened to learn from the LVRPA’s South Ranger, that the LVRPA will be making some changes to the mowing regime and that this year’s Countryside Live, will be restricted to days for school children only.  However, it remains to be seen whether there will be any less infrastructure or be less intrusive and disruptive to the open space?

SLM made an Freedom of Information (FOI), request to the LVRPA about the income and expenditure linked to organising and running Countryside Live has revealed that the 2017, the event achieved a deficit of £45,815.30.  This is a staggering amount and does not even include the costs of clearing up or repairing damage which was carried out by in-house staff working on a 10 hour day.  With such a long working day, it is hardly surprising that items such as plastic ties (that could be dangerous to wildlife), were left behind and holes were not properly filled in.

 

SLM really does not want to be wholly negative of the work that the LVRPA does in maintaining its statutory duties in running the Lee Valley.  We understand the political, economic and environmental pressures that the Authority faces and its need to communicate and fulfil its community role, but seriously Countryside Live is not the best way of engaging with local people, maintaining the land or earning a profit.  The Countryside itself has become something of a battle ground itself with divergent interests amongst agri-businesses, lobbyists for now illegal hunting practices to be revived (relevant here as this event was previously sponsored by The Countryside Alliance) and those that would like more ecological approaches to managing land.  Let’s at least try to protect and improve one relatively small green space in East London together.

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Our response to the LVRPA’s draft Biodiversity Action Plan

Since its inception, Save Lea Marshes has banged on the LVRPA’s door and asked to join conversations about how the marshes are managed. Our entreaties have, largely, gone unheard. And then we discovered that the LVRPA was consulting on its draft Biodiversity Action Plan (https://www.leevalleypark.org.uk/en/content/cms/corporate/enhancing-the-valley/bap-consultation/) and we jumped at the chance to have our say. This is our response to the consultation.
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Firstly, we welcome the opportunity for local people to comment on the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority’s plans relating to biodiversity, as this is something that has not happened as much as we would have liked in the past. There are, however, a number of issues with the plan as it currently stands. These are as follows:
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1. This ‘plan’ contains many words describing the historical context and the current situation and very few words explaining exactly what you are planning to do. It is also missing all the maps. And without a clear understanding of exactly what you are planning to do – what your vision is and how you intend to move from the here and now towards that vision – it is almost impossible to provide cogent feedback (or, I would have thought, create SMART targets). The devil is in the detail, and we simply do not have the detail to comment on. To take just two examples:
    • You state that you want the community involved, but you do not mention how you intend to do this. As a group that represents the local community, we wanted to be able to comment on how likely your actions are to succeed, but we do not know what they are.
    • You state, ‘This species [creeping marshwort] will benefit from special management aiming to increase its cover, prevent it from being ousted by more vigorous competition and buffer it from extreme changes in water levels.’ Again, we might have been able to comment on the effectiveness – or otherwise – of your proposals for managing this species if you had provided them.
2. This plan does not explain how you intend to uphold the values of the biodiversity action plan in the face of conflicting pressures from other parts of the LVRPA. How will biodiversity be protected from, for example, plans to hold events on land managed as meadow or plans to sell off large swathes of green space for development?
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3. It was challenging to determine why you have chosen to focus on the species and habitats you include in the plan. What is your rationale for including them? Your starting point, in most cases, seems to be to understand current distribution, but surely you already have such information to justify the inclusion of a species or a habitat? If not, would it not be worth taking a further step back and examining the diversity of species and habitats across areas of the park first, and then deciding which need their own action plans? If you do have such information, we would have liked to see it in the plan. Similarly, there is very little mention of the conservation status of the species and habitats that you mention, making it challenging for a lay person to determine whether or not your priorities should be challenged. For example, Barbel has been included because it is a good species to engage fishermen and the general public, whereas the European Eel – which you acknowledge is globally red-listed and is, from a conservation point of view, much more important – is not a priority for you.
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4. This plan lacks a commitment to manage invasive non-native species without recourse to spraying pesticides and herbicides.
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Save Lea Marshes would welcome further and fuller opportunities to engage in a meaningful way in developing a robust biodiversity action plan, that puts biodiversity and the protection and celebration of nature at the heart of the Lee Valley Regional Park’s vision, and look forward to hearing from you.
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What happened to our money?

Following the takeover of Leyton Marsh by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) for the construction of the absurd and rarely used temporary basketball arena, which was vigorously opposed by members of the local community and resulted in the creation of the Save Leyton Marsh campaign, now called Save Lea Marshes (SLM), the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) was given two pots of money to make up for the damage the ODA had done. First, according to an LVRPA feedback report to a meeting of the Walthamstow Marshes site management workshop held on 14th December 2013, £73,000 was provided for ‘Leyton Marsh enhancement works’. This came from the licence fee the ODA paid for using the marshes for the temporary basketball arena and the fine they paid when they handed the land back to the LVRPA later than agreed, and was to be spent on ‘community engagement and events’. Secondly, a further £75,000 was paid by the ODA for the botched reinstatement and this money was to be used to fund ‘the final reinstatement works on Sandy Lane and ongoing management works on Leyton Marsh’.

The point of these payments was to make good both the damage to the land and the loss to the community, which had had to put up with the invasion by the ODA and the loss of its amenity. However, we found the lack of responsiveness of the authorities – the LVRPA, the ODA and Waltham Forest Council – during the Olympics was repeated in the way the LVRPA handled the decision-making process around the spending of the money.

Members of the community had been attending meetings organised by the LVRPA concerning the management of the Marshes, as shown by the feedback report. These were, therefore, the appropriate occasions to discuss this spending. The whole point was to involve the community in this process, not just to restore relationships that had been badly damaged by the Olympics, but also to deepen the participation of the community in the management of the Marshes. However, members of the public were not consulted in any way on the money provided for the ‘final reinstatement works on Sandy Lane and ongoing management works on Leyton Marsh’. Indeed no budget has been produced to show how this money was spent. We are now asking for this information in a Freedom of Information request. It is a measure of how the LVRPA does things that there has been no feedback on this critical aspect of restoring Leyton Marsh.

In fact, the community was not even made aware of the existence of the £75,000 pot of money until after it had already had discussions about spending the £73,000. This meant it included items, such as habitat management, in its proposals for the community spend, which should have been included in that ‘ongoing management works’ budget.

A feature of its engagement with the public is how the LVRPA has steadily cut back on public consultation. At the start of this process there were regular ‘forums’, at which, as the name implies, there was something approaching an open discussion with officers. These forums were then replaced by ‘workshops’. These had an emphasis on the LVRPA providing information rather than on open and inclusive discussions in which members of the public could contribute to policy-making. However, at least these continued to be opportunities for discussion. These more limited discussions were then replaced by the present walkabouts, in which a couple of rangers take members of the public on a ramble around Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes, an entirely informal event with no attempt at an agenda or any kind of record-keeping. At all times there has been a problem with advertising these meetings as the LVRPA has long had an aversion to putting up notices telling people about them.

Initially the LVRPA and local people discussed the various projects that could be funded from the £73,000 provided for ‘Leyton Marsh enhancement projects’. Very little went on projects which had originally gained support in the meetings with the community. We regard it as entirely inappropriate that money was spent on projects which the LVRPA would normally have funded itself. The whole point was to give the community a say and to include it in deciding what should be done, both because the money was provided as compensation for the damage done to Leyton Marsh and the community and because, supposedly, this was in line with LVRPA policy to engage the public.

To give an idea of the kind of projects the community supported, the list below is taken from the minutes of the forum meeting in January 2013:

  1. Community engagement projects
    Location: Walthamstow Marshes
    Aim: Provide learning opportunities and raise awareness of the marshes amongst the local community and visitors. This will be achieved by providing a range of ways for people of all interests, ages and abilities to get involved in the site and work undertaken by LVRPA.
    • Option 1: Young rangers, aged 8–12
    Estimated cost: £3,500
    APPROVED
    • Option 2: Outreach for teenagers, perhaps through Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
    Estimated cost: £3,000
    APPROVED
    • Option 3: Special-interest events such as walks and talks
    Estimated cost: £2,500
    APPROVED
    • Option 4: Open events, such as Lammas Harvest Day, Dog Agility Day and a Community Picnic
    Estimated cost £20,000
    REJECTED
  2. Leyton Marsh habitat management
    Location: Leyton Marsh
    Aim: Diversify and enhance habitats on Leyton Marsh.
    • Option 1: Scarify and over-seed areas of grassland
    Estimated cost £1,000
    APPROVED
    • Option 2: Planting hedges and trees
    Estimated cost of £7,000
    APPROVED
    • Option 3: Planting wildflowers
    Estimated cost £750
    REJECTED
    • Option 4: Digging a wet area
    Estimated cost £500
    APPROVED
    • Option 5: Improving the entrance to the marshes
    Estimated cost £7,000
    REJECTED
    • Option 6: Cleaning up the area around the oxbow lake
    Estimated cost £20,000
    REJECTED
  3. Natural screening of Ice Centre
    Location: Strip of land between the rear of the Ice Centre and the southern footpath on Leyton Marsh
    Aim: Create a continuous woodland belt between the Ice Centre and Leyton Marsh for both aesthetics and nature conservation value.
    • Estimated cost £4,000
    APPROVED, with money put into escrow until a decision about the ice rink’s future is made.
  4. Art project on underpass
    Location: At the cattle creep and the Sustrans Lea Bridge Road underpass
    Aim: Through an art project engage with local children to raise awareness and educate them about Walthamstow Marshes.
    • Estimated cost £6,000
    APPROVED
  5. Other
    • Option 1: Improving the footpath between the Sustrans route and the boardwalk
    Estimated cost £3,000
    APPROVED
    • Option 2: New signage
    Estimated cost £10,000.
    REJECTED

The next meeting, on 18th March 2013, expected to review fully costs proposals for the options approved in January. This did not happen. Instead general budget figures were presented, as below:
• £49,000 for Community engagement projects, to be rolled out over two to three years;
• £10,000 for Leyton Marsh habitat management ;
• £6,000 for natural screening of the ice centre, with plans to be confirmed only after the future of the ice centre is known;
• £6,000 for the art project on the underpass.

That marked the end of the LVRPA’s ‘consultation’ on specific items to be spent from the £73,000 pot. No discussion ever occurred about the other £75,000 pot. After 18th March 2013 local people were excluded from any further discussion about how any of the money was to be spent.

Save Lea Marshes has made two Freedom of Information requests, in
2015 and 2017, about how this money was spent and how closely it matched what the community had agreed to. As we have never received any information about the £75,000 budget for reinstatement we are making a further request to see what exactly was done with that money.

Both the responses we have received only concern the £73,000. In fact, both accounts are imprecise and at times inaccurate. For example, the closing balance for 2013/2014 (£68,851.97), provided in the response in 2015, does not equal the opening balance for 2014/2015 (£67,000). In the latest statement in 2017 there seems to be an overspend of £4293, so this is not an accurate account of how the £73,000 was spent.

The latest Freedom of Information response shows that, among other things, the LVRPA spent £11,182 on habitat enhancement, which included £1,788 on scarifying, £3,695 on bramble removal, £340 on meadow-rolling and £1,829 on ‘meadow mix seed’. As stated above, if the community members had been aware of the £75,000 pot of money they would have said some of these items, like the scarifying, should have been met from that budget as they were directly related to the damage done by the construction of the temporary basketball arena. Likewise, we would always have objected to spending money on what would otherwise be routine maintenance, such as bramble removal and meadow-rolling, from either pot of money.

£584 was spent on hedge and tree planting which should probably have been spent from the £75,000 pot for ongoing management. Of all these expenditures it is likely only the £839 spent on bat boxes would have qualified as a project the community would have endorsed.

Another item was a ‘community’ film project which cost £5,000. Save Lea Marshes did get to meet the filmmaker at one point and then heard nothing more about it and have never seen the film. We know that there was some community involvement because we have heard that another group was involved. However, the idea of a film was never approved by the community in discussion with the LVRPA. We are trying to get more information about this film, when it was shown and to see a copy!

The LVRPA spent £4,846 on an event called Community Haystacks over three years. This is an annual event which is part of the LVRPA’s programme. Members of the community specifically rejected spending money on another ‘Lammas Harvest Day’.

Similarly, the LVRPA spent £4,615 on ‘Top Dog’. Once again the community members who attended the meeting in January 2013 rejected any spending on an event called ‘Dog Agility Day’. ‘Top Dog’ never gained approval.

Two other events, ‘Walthamstow Mysteries’ and ‘Love the Lea Festival’, received £2,000 and £1,667 respectively.

The LVRPA also spent £9,922 on ‘Casual Staff’. This appears under a budget heading entitled ‘Misc’. We don’t know who these casual staff were and what they were doing. The forum in January did include spending on ‘Junior Rangers’. There is no indication these casual staff fell into this category.

‘Misc’ also included £1,823 for ‘publicity’ and £1,485 for ‘tools for litter pickers’. Another related litter event, ‘Litter Bug, cost £3,000. Once again litter-picking would seem to be an ongoing activity for LVRPA staff, while it is not clear what the publicity was promoting. The purpose of the money was to engage the community and, while this could include some publicity costs, if it was spent on publicising events like Community Haystacks and Top Dog, this would not have been what forum members had in mind.

Other events which may or may not have gained approval if people had known what they involved include ‘Wild Family Days’ at a cost of £4,000, ‘Ranger Drop-in Days’ with £1,967 spent on ‘shelters’, ‘PA and Microphone’ and ‘Folding Tables and Chairs’, and £868 spent on ‘Bush Craft’.

An event, ‘Bat walk’, which cost £300, would probably have received community support along with bat detectors costing £1,724. However, ‘Ranger Rambles’ with spending of £245 on moth traps and £800 on binoculars sounds like it should have been LVRPA spending from a different budget. The point is, however, that none of these ideas were discussed by members of the community at the forums where spending was meant to be approved.

Of the items which the community did approve it seems the only one to survive was the ‘Lea Bridge Underpass’ arts project on which £15,528 was spent. Unfortunately, the underpass project was so badly done that it will have to done again. The mural-on-the-marsh project, which was originally the underpass project and which cost £6,252, was hijacked from its original proposer and artist, and turned into a completely different event which failed to provide children with the opportunity to create the mural as originally intended. We are as yet in the dark about whether or not the money set aside to screen the ice centre is still available.

The LVRPA promised it would allow the community to spend the money given to them by the Olympic Delivery Authority to compensate us for the damage done to Leyton Marsh by the temporary basketball arena. It has failed abjectly to keep this promise.

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Our Official Response to the New Local Plan: Direction of Travel

Dear London Borough of Waltham Forest,

We are writing in response to your ‘New Local Plan – Direction of Travel’ document and the response it has elicited from the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA).

We have not read the LVRPA’s final response to the consultation (which we urge you to publish on your website as soon as practicable), but we were able to see a draft of the letter at the LVRPA’s Regeneration and Planning Committee Meeting that took place on 14 December. In that draft, the LVRPA proposed submitting two sites in response to your call for sites. Both of these sites are Metropolitan Open Land (MoL) and we are writing to state that we object, in the strongest possible terms, to any use of the sites for development which leads to the loss of open land.

MoL must be protected and Save Lea Marshes objects to any attempts to remove the MOL designation from land within the Lee Valley Regional Park specifically and within the borough more generally. This position is supported by thousands of local people; and we refer you to the petition signed by over 5000 people in response to the first draft of the Lea Valley Eastside Vision, which called on the Council not to rezone the land around the Waterworks for housing (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-council-s-plan-to-build-on-leyton-marshes).

We therefore are asking you to reject both sites.
Save Lea Marshes

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A personal response to the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s New Local Plan – Direction of Travel consultation

A local plan is a plan for the future development of the local area, drawn up by the Local Planning Authority. It guides decisions on whether or not planning applications can be granted. It is, in other words, the thing that the Council and developers refer to when deciding what to build and where to built it in Waltham Forest. Nipping bad ideas in the bud before they become part of the local plan will mean we have fewer battles against individual planning applications in the future. Well, that’s the theory anyway! The Council has put their ‘direction of travel’ for the new local plan out to consultation and I have just had a look.

The plan seems to suggest that the development of ‘affordable housing’ will help to ensure that all residents have ‘a decent roof over their head’. I completely endorse the Council’s desire to ensure that every resident in Waltham Forest has a safe and secure place to live, but selling off Council-owned land to developers to build so-called ‘affordable housing’ is not the answer. Developers consistently wriggle out of their commitments to the community. If Council-owned land is sold, it should only be sold for social housing; housing that people on the Council’s housing list will be able to move into.

 

Many residents are opposed to tower blocks in the borough because they are fundamentally changing what so many of us value: the low-rise Victorian and Edwardian neighbourhoods of family houses. To some extent, concentrating blocks of flats around transport hubs makes sense, theoretically reducing carbon emissions by reducing car ownership and – if built to high environmental standards – limiting water, electricity and gas usage through shared services. However, it is the height of these tower blocks that is causing so much anxiety. While a building of five or six storeys can, if well designed, blend into its surroundings, a 27 storey block is nothing more than a priapic reminder that local people have very little say in what happens to the places they call home. I also question whether developers after a quick buck are thinking about the long-term environmental sustainability of the homes they are building and I am saddened that, to date, the Council does not seem to have set high standards and insisted that developers making money out of our home meet these standards.

 

If, as many suspect, the drive to build expensive homes in the borough is the Council’s attempt to increase its revenue by increasing the number of people paying Council Tax, then let’s be honest about this. Let’s not pretend we are place making when, in fact, we are selling off our future to fund essential services now.

 

When I first moved to the borough in 2001, the different town centres – Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow and Chingford – all had distinct identities but seemed to be equal. The Council acknowledges that Walthamstow has received significant investment over the last few years and people living in other parts of the borough are becoming more and more aggrieved. It is wrong to focus on making Walthamstow the major town centre in the borough. It would be far better to spread investment across the borough, or the Council risks setting one community against another. It would also be wise for the Council to remember that creativity emerges in edgelands; places where people can experiment and explore boundaries. There has been much creativity in the borough over the years, which the Council rightly celebrates, but the Council’s strategy risks destroying the very thing that nurtured this creativity. Tidy place-made places are rarely, by their very nature, creative.

 

Where the Council should be directing their energies is into making sure that the buildings that are built in the borough are well-designed. Good design is, of course, subjective but there is a strong desire amongst residents for buildings that integrate with the Victorian and Edwardian character of the borough. The concept of designing out crime is also challenging. Resilient communities, where people know their neighbours and collectively take responsibility for each other, work together to prevent crime. Until recently I lived in a block of flats in Walthamstow and young people used to hang out in our communal garden. They left litter and made noise and, when they disturbed me, I went out to chat with them. They were unfailingly polite, often not realising the impact they were having and just wanting a place to relax and hang out. They often apologised at the inconvenience they were causing. At a local community forum I shared this insight and was told, in no uncertain terms by the Police officers there, that they can never recommend people talk to each other because it can be dangerous. I can categorically say, that over the course of a decade, I never once felt afraid; in fact I felt happier connecting with the people I was living alongside. Encouraging people to call the Police when others, particularly young people, do something irritating, rather than talking to them, is how young people become alienated and criminalised. Far from designing out crime, beginning with the idea that crime is ever present and must be eradicated creates fearful, polarised communities where truly criminal behaviour has the space to flourish.

 

The Council rightly celebrates the fact that Waltham Forest is one of London’s greenest boroughs. Access to nature is critical for social, emotional and physical well-being and must, therefore, be a priority for the Council. Nature is, as my seven-year-old nephew said to me today, ‘love, peace and unity for all’; that’s not just all people, that’s all living things. So I completely oppose the Council’s plan to bring public wifi to Walthamstow Wetlands. The wetlands should be a place where people can get away from the speed of modern life, where they learn to reconnect with nature and put the needs of birds and other wildlife ahead of their own needs. We should be encouraging people to watch the light play on water or watch the way birds nest and feed, not pollute the atmosphere will tinny music played from mobile phones. The Council must acknowledge the importance of the borough’s green spaces and the role they play in making life worth living, and make a firm, unshakeable commitment to protect all green spaces. Metropolitan Open Land and Green Belt must be protected.

 

I welcome the Council’s plan to plant 50,000 new trees, but I call on the Council to protect the trees already growing in our borough and do more to prevent developers cutting down or damaging mature trees. It is, after all, mature trees and not saplings that do the most to mitigate the effects of climate change.

 

The Council must also acknowledge that its drive for efficiency through technology disadvantages those in the community that cannot or will not use computers. Many prefer to talk to a real person who can sympathise and advise them on what to do next when they have a problem. Emails often go unanswered and, when you log an issue through the Council’s portal, you are not sent the text you entered, just a computer generated reference number, so you cannot follow up an issue that is not dealt with because you do not have a written record of the complaint you made. The Council says that it wants to create jobs; perhaps fully trained staff able to liaise with residents to resolve problems is a good place to start.

 

The Council rightly celebrates the William Morris Gallery, but must not forget that it wanted to close the Gallery and it was a hard-fought campaign by local people that secured its future and helped turn it into what it is now. Just sometimes residents do know best…

You can have a look at the New Local Plan – Direction of Travel document here: http://walthamforest-consult.limehouse.co.uk/portal/pp/newlp/dot.

Comments are required by 5pm on 22 December 2017.

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Cow Bridge, Hackney Marshes: An Accident Waiting to Happen?

Back in 2011/2012, before they were given permission to build the new pavilion at Hackney North Marsh, Hackney Council carried out two ‘risk assessments’ at Cow Bridge. In fact they only chose to assess the risk at the Millfields Road end of the bridge. Bridges do have two ends so this was remiss, as we will show:

In their assessments they identified a number of different hazards:

1. Risk of pedestrians or vehicles colliding with a recycling bin which had been sited directly on the pedestrian desire line across the junction. It transpired that it was not affixed to the footway surface and as a result could be moved.

2. Risk of side swipe accidents arising from large vehicles having to straddle the central line markings to negotiate the corner at Millfields Road and Mandeville Street.

3. Risk of collision with raised kerb as there was no street furniture to highlight the presence of the vehicle splitter island.

4. Risk of trip hazard as the splitter island is close to pedestrian crossing line and may result in pedestrians, particularly the visually impaired tripping on the raised kerb of the island.

5. Risk of right turn accidents because a prohibition of right turn sign from Mandeville Street which had been erected at a location where the forward visibility of the sign was reduced by virtue of the horizontal alignment of Mandeville Street and the foliage that was present on the adjacent boundary wall.

In fact there is now no prohibition of right turn sign, it has been removed. In addition there are no road markings indicating a no right turn.

6. Risk of pedestrian slip hazard because water may have formed a pond in the vicinity of the pedestrian crossing point resulting in the creation of a potential slip hazard, particularly during periods of cold weather.

7. Risk of injury to cyclists and pedestrians because when the barrier is in the closed position the bracket to enable use of a padlock protrudes into the potential path of cyclists and powered two wheelers.

8. Risk of shunt type collisions because the signal head is located on the offside of the exit road from the changing room car park. In addition a second access road forms a junction with the Cow Bridge access road between the signal head and the bridge structure. The audit team was of the view that the operation of the Cow Bridge access road will not be clearly understood by visitors to the site and this may result in vehicles attempting to exit the site without waiting for a green signal. In addition, the side road is not currently under signal control. If the above situation occurs it may result in head-on type collisions on the structure or it will be necessary for vehicles to reverse. This may result in vehicles reversing back into the highway on Millfields Road into the path of oncoming vehicles.

The ‘access road’ referred to is actually a second entrance/exit at the bridge off Millfields Lane. Two potential entrances or exits could indeed cause confusion.

This bizarre rigmarole of accidents came closest to describing the real hazards at Cow Bridge. However, they only assessed the risk at one end of the bridge. The real hazards occur on the bridge itself and at the Marshes end, as revealed in the pictures and video below, and were not examined in this ‘exhaustive’ investigation.

First, the nature of the bridge, its steep slopes and narrow roadway with high walls on both sides, means drivers’ view as they reach the summit is restricted – the 20mph speed limit in the first picture above no longer applies!

Having reached the top of the bridge, as has been repeatedly observed, many drivers are going too fast, which along with the restricted views make it harder for them to properly assess what is going on in front of them before they embark on the downward slope.

Second, the bridge is used by cyclists and by pedestrians, including children, sometimes accompanied by animals, usually dogs. The assumption is that pedestrians will use the pedestrian bridge on the side but many pedestrians prefer to use the bridge and cyclists are obliged to do so because they are prohibited from cycling on the side bridge. In many instances drivers will not be able to see these other users until they are virtually on top of them. There are no pedestrian or cyclist signals to warn drivers or to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Third, on the Marsh side of the bridge the road is crossed by a pedestrian and cycle path which takes these users right in front of the bridge meaning drivers will only see them at the last moment as they come down the bridge.

Their view of pedestrians, cyclists or runners coming from either side is obscured by the wall of the bridge.

This cycle and pedestrian path which crosses right in front of the bridge is used by cyclists, pedestrians and runners and is not controlled by signals.

All these hazards passed unnoticed by the inspection team. However, that is not to say Hackney Council would not have been aware of them. At the public inquiry into the pavilion in 2015 objectors from Save Lea Marshes pointed out these hazards and played a video before the assembled witnesses and representatives from Hackney, which exactly demonstrated all these hazards. It is worth noting that the inspection team thought it possible visitors might not understand the traffic signals. What they did not reckon with was drivers coming from the pavilion car park understanding the traffic signals but deliberately driving through a red light and with them queueing up at the traffic signal on the wrong side of the road!

While Hackney Council did reduce the speed limit from the absurd level of 20 mph to 5 mph after Save Lea Marshes raised objections, it did not occur to the Council to revisit its risk assessment and examine any of the other issues at the Hackney Marshes end of the bridge in light of the information we presented at the enquiry. Hackney Council paid no attention to the testament to appalling driving presented to them and the full range of hazards it revealed with pedestrians, cyclists and runners all crossing the bridge or the roadway while we filmed before the queue of cars took off on a red light having lined up on the wrong side of the road.

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